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ISME J. 2012 Oct;6(10):1801-11. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2012.30. Epub 2012 Apr 5.

Particle-size distributions and seasonal diversity of allergenic and pathogenic fungi in outdoor air.

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Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06511, USA.


Fungi are ubiquitous in outdoor air, and their concentration, aerodynamic diameters and taxonomic composition have potentially important implications for human health. Although exposure to fungal allergens is considered a strong risk factor for asthma prevalence and severity, limitations in tracking fungal diversity in air have thus far prevented a clear understanding of their human pathogenic properties. This study used a cascade impactor for sampling, and quantitative real-time PCR plus 454 pyrosequencing for analysis to investigate seasonal, size-resolved fungal communities in outdoor air in an urban setting in the northeastern United States. From the 20 libraries produced with an average of ∼800 internal transcribed spacer (ITS) sequences (total 15 326 reads), 12 864 and 11 280 sequences were determined to the genus and species levels, respectively, and 558 different genera and 1172 different species were identified, including allergens and infectious pathogens. These analyses revealed strong relationships between fungal aerodynamic diameters and features of taxonomic compositions. The relative abundance of airborne allergenic fungi ranged from 2.8% to 10.7% of total airborne fungal taxa, peaked in the fall, and increased with increasing aerodynamic diameter. Fungi that can cause invasive fungal infections peaked in the spring, comprised 0.1-1.6% of fungal taxa and typically increased in relative abundance with decreasing aerodynamic diameter. Atmospheric fungal ecology is a strong function of aerodynamic diameter, whereby through physical processes, the size influences the diversity of airborne fungi that deposit in human airways and the efficiencies with which specific groups of fungi partition from outdoor air to indoor environments.

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